Hope for Healing – How a Special Colorado Camp Helps Heal Heartbreak
posted by: Guest Blogger
Brandon Heelan was eight years old when his father fell ill and had to be hospitalized. He was diagnosed with sepsis, a fast-moving infection in which the body attacks its own tissues and organs. Within one week of checking into the hospital, the most important person in Brandon’s life was gone forever.
“My dad was my everything: my baseball coach; my role model; and my hero,” Brandon says. “He meant the world to my family and finding a new normal was extremely difficult.”
The outpouring of love Brandon received from relatives, teachers and classmates in the months after his father’s death was sincere; however, kind words couldn’t heal a small heart so completely broken.
“I felt supported, but I didn’t feel like anyone understood,” he explains. “I was confused, wondering why this happened to me. After my dad died I stopped playing baseball, stopped doing anything. It was just too hard.”
Brandon’s mom realized that Brandon and his two older brothers needed more help than she could give them, so she began taking them to weekly family bereavement counseling sessions. The counselor thought the Heelan boys would benefit from a more immersive healing environment and recommended Camp Comfort.
Founded in 1995, Mount Evans Home Health Care & Hospice’s groundbreaking bereavement camp has helped more than 1,500 Colorado children find a path through their grief. For two weekends each summer, highly trained Mount Evans counselors engage grieving campers in a carefully curated program of emotional discovery and heart-healing outdoor recreation.
Here in Colorado, 1 in 17 children will experience the death of parent or sibling before age 18. These children are often the forgotten victims of loss. At Camp Comfort, children learn ways to cope with their grief through workshops and activities – building skills that may help them now and throughout their lives. Grief workshops are balanced with recreational activities, such as swimming, zip lining, horseback riding, and fishing so that children feel free to have fun and just be kids.
“I didn’t feel so alone,” Brandon says. “Looking back at my 8-year-old self, I went from bottling everything up to learning to talk about my loss. I learned to live for my Dad and do things that would make him proud.”
By the time his powerful Camp Comfort weekend drew to a close, Brandon was set on the path to emotional healing. The pain was still there, of course, but, for the first time in a long time, so was the active, optimistic boy he’d been. Camp Comfort allowed his youthful spirit to reassert itself, and that spirit remains alive and well in the man Brandon has become. Last summer, Brandon and his mom returned to Camp Comfort, this time as buddies.
“It’s full circle,” he smiles. “I know firsthand how much Camp Comfort can help a grieving child. It means the world to me that I can be there for them.”
Children often carry a heavy burden when someone they love dies. Camp Comfort cannot take a child’s grief away but it can offer an opportunity to discover skills, build new friendships, develop a better understanding of their grief, and help them preserve positive memories of their loved one.
To learn more about Camp Comfort, visit www.campcomfort.org